Health and safety guide for volunteer and community litter picking

This document provides advice on the successful running of a Volunteer or Community litter picking event. Whether the event is a one off litter pick in your community, or your group is an established voluntary group, the document will provide you advise on the risks and precautions applicable to litter picking.

Litter picks are generally very safe, and it is unlikely that you will encounter any serious hazards or incidents, however, all volunteers must know the risks, understand the control measures and have signed this document prior to commencing a litter pick.

It is the responsibility of the lead volunteers/organisers to ensure all group members are aware of the risks and have signed this assessment.

Before starting:

  • Ensure the site selected for the litter pick is safe, e.g. locations near roadsides should be avoided
  • Ensure all those taking park have the correct Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and appropriate clothing – e.g. gloves, Hi-Viz vest, sensible footwear, weather appropriate clothing etc.
  • Provide the correct equipment – e.g., litter grabbers and purple plastic bags 
  • Consider and bring to the attention of all those taking part, the risks and hazards in the work area
  • Brief all volunteers – highlighting site specific dangers if required
  • Ensure you are aware of how to report accidents or incidents and hazardous or unidentified waste on RBBC website

Typical hazards likely to be present during a litter pick:

  • Contact with sharps / needles and other sharp objects / items of litter, e.g. broken glass
  • Contact with faeces, vomit, used condoms and other hazardous waste
  • Contact with thorns, shrubbery and other vegetation
  • Contact / encounters with insects, wasps or rodents
  • Slips and/or trips due to uneven ground, slippery surfaces, slopes and hidden banks
  • Manual handling
  • Exposure to weather conditions - hot, cold, wet or windy weather

What are the hazards?

(What could cause harm?)

Who might be harmed and how? What existing control measures are in place to reduce or prevent the risk?

Risk rating

(H / M / L)

Further action to be taken to control the risk?

(Only record actions/controls that you are going to implement)
Assigned to? Completed and when?
Contact with sharps / needles and objects or items e.g. broken glass


Cuts or laceration injuries leading to infection or disease
  • Volunteers to be provided with and instructed to use litter grabbers to pick up all litter
  • Volunteers to be provided with appropriate PPE, including gloves
  • All participants should be recommended to have up-to-date tetanus injection
  • Volunteers instructed to leave needles alone and report to the Council for removal
  • Volunteers should be instructed to seek medical attention where required
M Volunteers should be instructed to thoroughly wash any cuts or abrasions as soon as possible, however minor.    
Environmental hazards, e.g. contact with thorns, shrubs and other vegetation


Poisoning, skin irritations and/or allergic reactions

Trips, cuts and eye pokes
  • Be alert to the risks and keep a look-out for hazards. – Organisers to bring to the attention of all volunteers any area of high risk to be avoided or where extra care should be taken
  • Awareness of low-hanging branches and exposed tree and shrub roots.
  • Volunteers to be provided with appropriate PPE, including gloves
  • Beware of dangerous plants and possible adverse reactions.
  • In the event of injury obtain medical attention should there be adverse reactions or unusual symptoms / reactions following contact with vegetation
  • Volunteers encouraged to wash hands thoroughly on completion collections
Highways vehicles, bicycles, plant and machinery


Collision with moving traffic resulting in serious injury or fatality
  • Organisers should ensure, where possible, that the planned location for litter pick is not near traffic or the highway
  • Organisers should ensure that there is a pavement between litter pickers and roads / the highway
  • Do not work on the roadside if the speed limit is 40mph or over.
  • Be alert to the potential presence of agricultural machinery.
  • Organisers to provide high visibility clothing to all volunteers taking part
  • Volunteers should be alert to the vehicles around them
  • Children should not work by any roadside and be supervised at all times
M Seek medical attention in the event of injury    
Contact with insects, wasps or rodents


Anaphylaxis / allergic reaction from wasp stings or contact with insects
  • Volunteers instructed to leave wasp nests along, if found
  • Organisers to provide volunteers with PPE, including gloves which must be worn at all times when undertaking litter picking
  • Volunteers asked to inform organisers of any known allergies
  • In the event of a reaction to contact with wasps or insects, Volunteers should be sent to seek medical attention as soon as possible
Ground conditions: Uneven ground, slippery surfaces, steep slopes, cliffs and hidden banks


Falls leading to sprains, muscle damage & broken bones.
  • Site organisers should ensure that any identified dangerous areas are avoided by volunteers and to stay away from these areas
  • Instruct volunteers to wear suitable footwear. – Sturdy and with adequate grip
  • Avoid picking on or close to the edge of cliffs, steep slopes etc. and below unstable cliffs & slopes. 
  • Organisers to take weather conditions and possible weather changes into account. – Monitoring the current and forecasted weather regularly in the lead up to the collection commencing
  • Seek medical treatment in the event of injury.
  • Thoroughly wash any cuts or abrasions as soon as possible, however minor
Domestic, wild and farm animals


Lymes Disease carried by animal ticks & bites/scratches from animals
  • Organisers should remind volunteers to wear appropriate clothing prior to the day of the litter pick.
  • Volunteers to be reminded to be aware of loose dogs.
  • Where ever possible, volunteers should avoid contact with animals and animal faeces
  • In the event of being bittern or scratched, Organisers should ensure that volunteers seek medical attention as soon as possible
  • Volunteers should wash their hands in the event of skin contact with animal faeces and avoid touching their eyes or mouth
  • Volunteers are instructed not to touch dead animals – and report to Council.
Hedges, fences, walls and ditches


Sprains, strains or fractures from falls or trips
  • Volunteers reminded to take care when climbing stiles particularly in wet weather.
  • Organisers to remind volunteers not to climb walls, ditches and fences.
  • Organisers to, where possible, ensure location chosen is safe for volunteers
Contact with hazardous waste, e.g. faeces or vomit


Health hazards such as irritation, infection
  • Do not approach or remove any potentially hazardous waste and report to the Council for disposal.
  • Volunteers should be instructed to not touch dog faeces
  • Seek medical attention if exposed to pesticides, insecticides, or other chemicals – record any label details.
  • Thoroughly wash ALL cuts or abrasions as soon as possible
  • Thoroughly wash your hands upon completion of the litter pick
  • Seek medical attention where appropriate
Manual Handling


Sprains, strains and other musculoskeletal injuries from poor lifting techniques
  • Volunteers to be instructed and reminded frequently to use good lifting practices
  • Volunteers reminded to get a new purple bag once theirs becomes too heavy to carry around
  • Where appropriate, share the load with an appropriate number of people.
  • Volunteers should be provided with appropriate gloves with adequate grip
  • If too heavy to handle leave the object in place and report it to the organisers to arrange removal by the Council
  • Stop immediately if suffering any pain or discomfort
  • Seek medical attention if the ill effects persist
Exposure to weather conditions, e.g. hot or cold, wet and windy


Sunburn, heatstroke, hypothermia and other weather related ill health effects
  • Organisers should regularly monitor the weather conditions, including current and forecasted
  • Avoid working in freezing, hot, wet or windy conditions.
  • Organisers should remind volunteers to dress for conditions & carry additional clothing.
  • In the event of extreme weather conditions, the litter pick should be postponed or abandoned
Tools and equipment


Incorrect use of tools / equipment provided may lead to injury from misuse

  • Organisers to ensure that Volunteers are aware of the correct and safe use of the equipment provided
  • Volunteers must use the equipment provided as intended
  • Organisers to provide appropriate PPE to Volunteers, including gloves
  • Organisers should ensure they have first aid kit available
  • Organisers to instruct volunteers to report / hand back any equipment that is faulty / defective
L Obtain medical attention in the event of injury.    
Lone working & physical or verbal assault


Verbal or physical abuse from rude or aggressive members of the public
  • Be aware of aggressive and difficult people.
  • Organisers should ensure that Volunteers remove themselves from any potential violent or aggressive situations rather than face conflict.
  • No lone working to occur – Organisers should ensure that Volunteers do not work out of sight of others
  • Group organisers/section leader to have mobile phone.
  • Organisers to ensure that all Volunteers have a mobile phone on their person during the litter pick
  • Organisers to ensure that groups keep together and stay off private property.
L Seek medical attention following any assault / injury.    
Electric fences


  • Volunteers to be reminded that they should always assume electric fences are live.
  • Volunteers to be instructed not to touch electric fences and to use their litter picking to reach any rubbish near, under or around any electric fencing
Water, Marshes and bogs

Hypothermia, drowning.

Diseases, including Weil’s Disease from rat’s urine
  • Volunteers to be reminded to avoid banks near any bodies of water
  • Organisers should ensure that litter pick locations chosen are  not close to water.
  • In the event of accidental immersion, volunteers should be sent home to shower and change into warm dry clothing
  • Volunteers to be reminded to cover any existing cuts or sores with a waterproof plaster before carrying out a litter pick. – Organisers should ensure that first aid kits include plasters

Upon completion of the litter pick:

  • Deposit bags of waste at bring sites or adjacent to RBBC council street litter bins and always in areas where it is safe for the crews to stop and retrieve bags – inform the RBBC Street Cleansing team of the bag’s location for collection and disposal
  • Double bag any bags containing sharp material or glass
  • Wash you hands and arms thoroughly and inspect them for any cuts or lacerations
  • Inspect the area that has been covered to ensure that no hazardous material has been left behind – remove is possible or report any hazardous material to the Council via the report it webpage or by emailing

Disclaimer: Volunteers should not participate in litter picks unless they understand and accept that participation is entirely at their own risk. Volunteers are not working for, or on behalf of RBBC and therefore RBBC cannot be held liable for any loss, damage or injury caused as a result of the actions or omissions of volunteers.